Books

Qur’an 34: Sheba

The thirty-fourth chapter of the Qur’an, Sheba, is named for the Queen of the South who traveled to question Solomon and received all she wanted in his answers. After submitting to Solomon’s participation in the Office of Prophet, she participates with Christ in His office of Priest.

This chapter introduces the Universal Call to Priesthood, the universal priesthood of intercession as taught by the Catholic Church. The Universal Call of Priesthood a natural response to the Universal Call to Prophethood. Individuals need signs to know where to look for God. The universal call to prophethood is the mechanism by which many will see those signs. After being overwhelmed by God’s grace, individual can respond not merely by sharing Christ’s prophetic office, but also His priestly office – by letting the Holy Spirit work in one’s works, by interceding on behalf of others.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

Now, when the Queen of Sheba saw his greatness and glory, she praised the Creator, and said: “Blessed be the Lord thy God, whom it has pleased to set thee upon the throne of the kingdom to do justice and right.” She then gave the king plenty of gold and silver, and he gave her what she desired.
Second Targum of Esther, IV

A reading, from the First Book of Samuel:

Then one of the servants answered and said,

“Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.”

Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said,

“Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.”

And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul. So David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying,

“Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”

And so it was, whenever the Spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.
1 Samuel 16:18-23

A Song, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure,
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;
And this was my reward from all my labor.

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 2:9-11

A reading, from the First Book of Kings:

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart. So Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his servants, the service of his waiters and their apparel, his cupbearers, and his entryway by which he went up to the house of the LORD, there was no more spirit in her. Then she said to the king:

“It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard. Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.”

Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold, spices in great quantity, and precious stones. There never again came such abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. Also, the ships of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought great quantities of almug wood and precious stones from Ophir. And the king made steps of the almug wood for the house of the Lord and for the king’s house, also harps and stringed instruments for singers. There never again came such almug wood, nor has the like been seen to this day.

Now King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired, whatever she asked, besides what Solomon had given her according to the royal generosity. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.
1 Kings 10:1-13

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

“The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”
Matthew 12:42

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
Luke 16:19-31

Communion Antiphon:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 1ho once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10

A Qur’anic Homily

“Sheba” contrasts two responses of exposure to prophecy: questioning and cooperation. Both can bring the soul to God.

  • Cooperation allows prophethood to be consummated in Priesthood.
  • Questioning allows the soul to be seduced and conquered by God.

As the Queen of Sheba’s future cooperation in judgment shows, cooperation with God (participation in the Universal Priesthood) is a completion of questioning (which, by allowing someone else to participate in Prophethood, can be thought of as confederation with God).

Questioning and the Universal Call to Prophethood

The Universal Call to Prophethood reveals in itself human gender and sexuality, a giving Prophet and a receiving hearer. The prophet’s listening audience, if properly recognizing the words of the Lord, is then transformed into a chorus.

For David, nature (through his music) and even metal (through his warcraft) became part of the medium of prophecy, through which the praise of the Lord flowed.

Certainly We granted David a favor from Us: “O mountains and birds, chime in with him!” And We made iron soft for him, saying, ’Make easy coast of mail and keep the measure in arranging, and act righteously. I indeed watch what you do.”
Qur’an 34:10-11

The same pattern was true of his son Solomon, who used the medium of construction of even the unseen realm for his prophecy:

And for Solomon the wind: its morning course was a month’s journey and its evening course was a month’s journey. We made a font of copper flow for him, and some of the jinn who would work for him by the permission of his Lord, and if any of them swerved from Our command, We would make him taste the punishment of the Blaze. They built for him as many temples as he wished, and figures, basins like cisterns, and cauldrons fixed.

“O House of David, work gratefully, and few of My servants are grateful.”
Qur’an 34:12-13

We’re called to be prophets, men like David and Solomon. But the Qur’anic author reminds us, neither men were complete, even Solomon in all his glory died:

When We decreed death for him, nothing apprised them of his death except a worm which gnawed away at this staff. And then he fell down, realize that had the jinn known the Unseen, they would not have remained in a humiliating torment.
Qur’an 34:14

So consider man’s complement: woman,, Solomon’s lover, the Queen of Sheba. Instead of giving prophecies, she received them. She tested Solomon with questions, as the Pharisees would later test Jesus with questions. In an earlier chapter, “The Ants,” the Qur’anic author extends the Second Targum of Esther into an erotic meditation on the Queen of Sheba as a soul conquered by God’s Wisdom.

“Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then draw away form them and observe what they return.”

She said, “O elite! A noble letter has indeed been delivered to me! It is from Solomon, and it begins in the Name of God, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful:

“Do not defy me, and come to me in submission.”
Qur’an 27:27-31

The images here is the same but from the perspective of the female, the receiver of prophecy. The ecstatic coming-out (ecstacy, ek-statis) of oneself ends in a deluge of fulfillment.

There was certainly a sign for Sheba in their habitation: two gardens, to the right and to the left.

‘Eat of the provisions of your Lord and give Him thanks: a good land and an all-forgiving Lord!’

But they disregarded, so We unleashed upon them a violent flood and replaced their two gardens with two gardens bearing bitter fruit, tamarisk, and sparse lote trees. We required them with that for their ingratitude. Do We require anyone but ingrates?
Qur’an 34:15-17

The use of romantic love as part of God’s love is well-attested in Christian writing, such as C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Four Loves. Loving-kindness completes Eros, as it completes Friendship and affection. Here, the Qur’anic author continues the erotic description of God’s love. Reception of prophecy, and its vitality in the conception of cooperation with God, must be received not just as an abstract fact but an incarnated reality. We can reject prophecy, not just because we disagree with its message, but that the pacing of revelation is not what we would expect.

We had placed between them and the towns which We had blessed hamlets prominent, and We had ordained the route through them:

‘Travel through them in safety, night and day.’

But they said,

‘Our Lord! Make the stages between our journeys far apart,’

and they wronged themselves. So We Turned them into folktales and caused them to disintegrate totally. There are indeed signs in that for every patient and grateful.
Qur’an 34:18-19

To say “slower” or “faster” to God’s chosen pace may miss the point.

The Universal Call to the Priesthood

The Catholic Church identifies two classes of priesthood, the ministerial priesthood capable of performing the sacraments, and the universal priesthood of all believers:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”. The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church: Lumen Gentium,” II:10, Second Vatican Council, AD 1964

The Universal Priesthood, according to the Catholic Church, includes reception, prayer and fasting, and also charity –good works by which others experience God. The Qur’anic view of intercession is similar to the view of grace or faith – essentially Catholic. As the church held at the Second Synod of Orange. All goodness is the Holy Spirit working in man. Man has the freedom to refuse to cooperate at any time, to engage in active charity or pull away, but there is no goodness apart from God.

If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
Second Synod of Orange 7, AD 529

And right praise and right intercession of the saints is not the saints own actions, but God’s actions, working through the saints. The active charity of the Universal Priesthood is not a good work separate from God’s good works – it is intercessory works of the Truth mediated through man.

Intercession is of no avail with Him , except for those whom He permits. When ear is lifted from their hearts, they say,

“What did your Lord say?’

They say, “The Truth, and He is the All-Exalted, the All-Great.”
Qur’an 34:23

Similarly, even the Devil has no power of his own. Men are free to error and choose sin, but sin cannot bind any man against God’s grace:

Certainly Iblis had his conjecture come true about them. So they followed him – all except a part of the faithful. He had no authority over them, but that We may ascertain those who believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt about it, and your lord is watchful over all things.
Qur’an 34:20-21

Thus we read in the Gospel, urging us to follow Christ by ministering together with our companions. Each of our good actions are actually God’s grace for the other.

Say,

“I give to you a single advice: that you rise up for God’s sake, in pairs or singly, and then reflect: there is no madness in your companion; he is just a warner to you before a severe punishment,”

Say,

“Whatever reward I may have asked you is for your own good. My reward lives only with God, and He is witness to all things.”
Qur’an 34:46-47

Jesus, in some mystical way as seen by the Qur’anic author, comes from God. By the Holy Spirit, Truth was come and shown that all things are from Him. From Falsehood nothing comes, because Falsehood is merely a lack of cooperation with the Truth:

Say,

“Indeed, my Lord hurls the Truth. The Knower of all that is Unseen.”

Say,
“The Truth has come and falsehood neither originates, nor restores.

Say,

“If I may astray, my going astray is only to my own harm, and if I am rightly guided that is because of what my Lord has revealed to me. He is indeed All-Hearing and Near-most.”
Qur’an 34:48-50

Conclusion

There is a barrier between those who accept and reject the Universal Call to Priesthood: hearing Prophecy. The “far off place” of fulfilling our own Universal Call to Priesthood requires us first to allow someone else to fulfill his Universal Call to Prophethood. The bosom of Abraham, seen by the Qur’anic author as participation in the Universal Priesthood, is impossible to cross without the grace of receiving prophecy, and already crossed if one does.

Were you to see them when they will be terror-stricken without any escape, and are seized from a close quarter. They will say,

“We believe in it!”

But how can they attain it from a far-off place when they denied it in the past and drew conjectures about the Unseen form a distant place? A barrier will separate them from what they long for, as was done aforetime with their likes, who had remained in grave doubts.
Qur’an 34:51-54

All might, and all wisdom, are from God. The Qur’anic author disputes the quasi-heretical Constitution of the Twelve Apostles

The bishop, is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in the several parts of the worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate. he is, next after God, your earthly God, who has a right to be honored by you. For concerning him, amid such as he, it is that God pronounces: “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Most High.”
Constitution of the Twelve Apostles II.IV.XXIV

… and rejects this. According to the Qur’anic author, you, the reader, are not called to a sacramental priesthood or a worldly bishopric, but as a Prophet and a Universal Priest:

Say, “Show me those you associated with Him as partners.” No! Indeed, He is God, the All-Mighty, the all-Wise.

We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner to all mankind, but most people do not know.
Qur’an 34:27-28

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